VIDEO: Gold standards at former Lord Mayor’s Rochestown home

Tommy Barker says the home of a former Cork Lord Mayor has had second, caring and improving owners.

Rochestown Road, Cork €1.45 million

Sq m 299 (3,200 sq ft)

Bedrooms: 5

Bathrooms: 4

BER: Pending

Best Feature: Pedigree

WHEN Ben Truda last came for sale, in the high summer of 2004, it was a house that had only ever been associated with the one family, literally and metaphorically.

It was ‘Goldbergs house,’ home for all their long, married life to Sheila Goldberg and Gerald Goldberg, the latter a former Cork city Lord Mayor, a patron of the arts, a collector, a figurehead of Cork’s Jewish community, and a citizen par excellence.

Ben Truda had been a wedding gift, built on a site acquired and granted to them by Sheila’s parents in Belfast, Alexander (Ben) and Gertrude Smith; today, the name Ben Truda recalls the Goldbergs’ gratitude, and their residency here, as a rich seam of cultural and intellectual Irish life, lived in Cork.

Predeceased by Sheila by seven years, Gerald Goldberg died on New Year’s Eve, 2003 and Ben Truda went for sale in July 2004, as a slice of Cork history, making €2m at the time.

Its contents — including an enormous and far-ranging library, art works and artifacts, sculpture, carvings and statuary — were dispersed.

Most items went to auction with Mealys, including an Aubusson handmade tapestry, by leBrocquy, which sold for €120,000: the specialist library on Jewish history was acquired separately.

At the time of its sale, there were fears for the house itself (as it was not listed,) and development pressures might even have seen it knocked and replaced by a handful of contemporary builds on its graceful grounds, one of the dozen or so large houses on expansive grounds, at the Douglas end of the Rochestown Road.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen, it was taken in hand by its purchasers, extended (but relatively modestly in scale, now at 3,200 sq ft) and the immaculate private gardens are still home to many feature and specimen trees.

They include two special, tall slender Irish yews, in a pride of place for decades and which were known by the Goldbergs as ‘the Ballerinas,’ for the way they sway in the breeze.

Given all the fates that could have befallen Ben Truda, it appears to have come out well from the exchange of ownership and occupation.

It was bought by one of Munster’s top architects, Limerick-born Donogh O’Riordan and his wife Geraldine, as he retired and after selling his design firm O’Riordan Staehli to the Dublin-based firm of Reddys, seeing the architectural entity rebranded as RORSA, which trades away still as the design business gathers pace once more.

The O’Riordans were the right people for it, too, with an intuitive and aesthetic understanding of the house and as to how it could be brought into future family occupation (during their decade here, the grounds have hosted a family wedding, and a few christenings of grandchildren).

Donogh and Geraldine had already known and admired the work of Ben Truda’s original architect, John Williamson of the regarded Chillingworth and Levie partnership.

They took his domestic design from 1939, and brought it into a new century — with due deference, and matching pebble dash, painted pink, all knitted together under a new slate roof.

Most architects would have made a contemporary mark, going the glass box route, and even if that was the couple’s inclination (RORSA did the Castlemaryr Hotel project and mix of manor and modern) they knew they wouldn’t be thanked or rewarded for it here at this iconic home of Cork’s cultural life.

Thus, a modest two-storey side extension added on the left is indecipherable in style from the original front facade, although a bay window has been added to the other side of the front where there’d been a small north-facing kitchen. It all looks like it was the way it was first intended.

Behind, what had been a small curved bay window is now a larger glazed box with traditional slate roof, set off by the kitchen and casual dining spot, and with concertina doors opening to a York stone paved patio.

Adjacent is a home study/ office, also with terrace access: the study has a wall with grouped AAI architecture wards for RORSA’s work, which includes the Cliff of Moher Visitor Centre, the maternity building at CUH and St John’s College extension, among a raft of other commendations.

Ben Truda is no mean work either, worked through by Donogh O’Riordan with builder Colman Caplice, and with many skilled trades and craftworkers involved.

Landscaper Martin Hallinan oversaw the garden’s respectful treatment, and the York stone he brought to the terrace was laboriously installed by a Muslim crew brought down from Northern Ireland, working long hours during Ramadan — and adding further to Ben Truda’s ecumenical attributes.

The Goldberg’s magnificent art collection may be dispersed, and the thousands of tomes all gone (the house was, in effect a wall-to-wall library) but not all was lost to it.

The O’Riordans bought a couple of the art items at the Mealys auction, and one, a pewter 1974 figure of two embracing nudes by Dublin sculptor Ronan Gillespie called The Lovers, has its own spot-lit niche now (see p15) in Ben Truda’s full width living room above a 5’ wide Kal fire with dancing flames.

A few select internal wall sections were removed (or had glass walls installed) to open up the flow of rooms and light in this exemplary home, ideal for hospitality and for home life, with hall and functional rooms, guest WC, utility (plus an en suite ground floor guest bedroom) to the front/north, and so most if not all of the good living spaces get a full southerly treatment.

“It’s a testament as to how well built the house was day one that it adapted so easily, allowing wall sections to be taken out,” observes Donogh in admiration of the 1930s work of its original Coveney Builders.

There are long, distant views opened up through the living areas, rather than huge open spaces, and while the eye is initially caught by a couple of bold wall colour splashes (and contemporary Irish artworks), after a while, most attention tends to drift out over the back garden, its terrace, perfect lawn, shrubbed beds, old crab apple tree, and boundaries of trees a century old and more.

Like some sort of communal plot, all of the large, neighbouring Rochestown Road homes in this prime suburban stretch here have exceptional maturity in their combined acres of ground and gardens, so a neighbour’s lofty oaks and beeches are the next-door occupants’ backdrop.

There are exotic specimens too, over the fence and in Ben Truda’s own grounds, including the panoply of acid-loving rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, as well as a sculptural myrtle, Tulip tree, a Judas tree, pin oak, cedars, tree ferns — you name them, and you’ll probably find them here, although 30 or so thuggish Lelandii trees have hit the mulcher. No loss.

When last sold back in 2004 by Maurice Cohalan of Cohalan Downing, Ben Truda was on over an acre, now it’s offered by his colleague Malcolm Tyrrell of Cohalan Downing on 0.75 of an acre, and he guides the immaculate and intelligently updated home at €1.45 million.

It may very well be brought past that sum when next sold, as it is a prize, one of the absolute best of the plethora of €1-million plus homes to hit Cork’s market already this year (and there’s a few more yet to surface).

The reason for the slight diminution in site size is that the O’Riordans have kept back a quarter acre at the very end of the garden to build their down-sizing home, and there’s a discrete separate entrance along the eastern garden boundary.

It was done a good few years ago, in anticipation of Ben Truda’s eventual resale.

That it took so long for the residential property market to pick up, and for demand for houses of this quality to re-emerge and prices to recover somewhat, has meant maturity has triumphed in the boundary planting, and there’ll now be minimal disturbance once their new home is built behind, and there’ll be no overlooking thanks to deft, architectural design, leading to future neighbourly good relations.

So as Donogh and Geraldine O’Riordan get ready to move on and to downsize after nine years at Ben Truda, today it’s a wholly adaptable and graciously accommodating home of the highest calibre, designed to suit entertaining, but also with compartmentalised rooms for quiet evenings in.

Main living room is 26’ deep, and 16’ wide with a large circular sofa around the Kal fireplace, and with some feature transparent Philippe Starck Louis XVI ‘ghost’ chairs.

Next to this is the dining space, with Carlo Scarpa glass table, sourced via Mimo, and Mimo also supplied a lot of other fittings and furniture here, including Vitsoe wall cabinets, and the origami-like light shade over the dining table.

There’s a slight bow window beyond the dining table, hosting a large, intensely colourful glass sculpture, sourced in France by an artist Christophe Gallard, and off through an opening created now through either side of a slender wall, is the low-key but slick Siematic kitchen by Houseworks, with Neff appliances.

Views from the kitchen counter range past a casual seating spot to the main garden terrace’s heat-soaking immense York stone terrace (a stone bookended on either side by Irish kilkenny limestone slabs, rich in fossil life) and lawn.

At the far end, between the the ‘Ballerina’ Irish yew trees is a sculpture of three tall poles, each bird-topped, called Council of Crows, by Anna Linnane and which was exhibited in 2003 in the National Botanic Gardens, before taking flight to perch in Rochestown’s finest. It’s an elegant, vertical view to crow about.

A lateral hallway separates the south-facing reception rooms from the more practical rooms, and the hall’s original wood-panelling is still respected, lightened by the minimally altering expedient of being painted crisp white, and a clever glass insert wall section allows light to penetrate to the core.

Overhead (the original stairs are sanded back, the stripped oak handrail’s smooth to the touch) the landing walls again are panelled and painted, even into some bedrooms.

Three are four double bedrooms, all calm spaces, with garden views, one has an en suite, but that’s nothing compared to the master suite, which takes the entire upper level of the two-storey extension.

This main suite is five-star hotel standard, little surprise as it was detailed by ex RORSA interior architect Marc O’Riain who has scooped national and international prizes and who lectures in CIT.

The bathroom is walled off in opaque glass, with glass door (glass doors also in other bathrooms, done by Walls to Windows) with Duravit sanitary ware and bath.

The bedroom is 26’ deep, with double aspect, and behind the bed is a walk-through long robe, with mirrored sliding doors, and understated storage units which were done by Cork craftsman Hans Leptien.

Craft, in fact, is a word that frequently comes to mind at Ben Truda, admiration for getting things right, looking right, working intelligently.

The 75-year-old house now has underfloor heating in most of the ground level, has all new electrics and plumbing, is extended and reroofed, windows are renewed, walls have been insulated, it all just hits the right aesthetic note and its mix of original and updated is bang on.

“It’s an important house, and it’s good for Cork that it’s still here, says Donogh O’Riordan, adding “it was so well designed, it was easy to adapt.”

VERDICT: Great home for sale, two exceptional owners.

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